Stewart Pollin had just taken a swim in his backyard pool when I arrived to see his solar photovoltaic system. The night was muggy. He said, “Let’s go inside, in the air conditioning. I’ll show you the inverters on the way in.”
Electrically powered air conditioning seemed a bit incongruous for this Gallup Hill Road household that relies on 42 roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels for most of its electricity. But Pollin said, “We put air conditioning in after we got the panels.”
The two 9-kilowatt-hour systems, installed in 2006 and 2008, cost the Pollins about $25,000—or half the total cost. The rest, the state of Connecticut’s clean energy rebate program paid using money collected through clean energy surcharges residents pay with our electric bills.
Although the state is reorganizing the agency that distributes this money, right now more than $800,000 sits in a fund ready to help people who want to install solar panels.
“The clean energy fund has provided financing for over 2,000 clean energy projects around the state,” said Emily Smith, managing director for external relations for the newly reorganized Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority. “It’s real, it’s here, it’s now, and we would encourage people to do it.”
Since July 1, the CEFIA officially replaced the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. To the average citizen, it performs services identical to the old fund, administering millions of dollars each year in financing to help people install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The fund also assists businesses. It’s under the newly expanded Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
No longer is solar PV a weird technology suited only to “early adopters.” The Pollins live a typical life. They use a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and full-sized refrigerator. (They heat their water off their oil-fired furnace.) Pollin, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Patty, a school counselor at Ledyard Middle School, said the adjustment to solar was easy. (They have four children, the youngest now in college, the others on their own. One of their sons worked for a solar installer for a while.)
In about 10 years, the PV system will pay for itself in savings of money they would have had to pay for the same electricity. The panels, which have no moving parts, ought to last another 10 years beyond that.
Every month, the Pollins get a bill for about $16, or what amounts to a service charge. In the winter, they pay a little more. All day long, the solar panels soak up sun and make electricity. Anything they do not use right away goes directly onto the wires at the end of their driveway. A new law requires the utility to pay the Pollins for this power at the same rate they pay for electricity. “That’s what made it work,” Pollin said.
Because the system is tied to the grid, the Pollins do not have to store energy in batteries. But they have not had to do that yet. Their solar PV system is big enough that it supplies most of their needs. Technically speaking, of course, they can use all of the appliances and lights they want because to get power they need beyond the panels’ capabilities, all they have to do is pay for it. They have not had to do that, and they have not had to turn off the air conditioning or lights or refrigerator, either.
The down side of a grid-connected system is that if the power goes off in the area, an automatic shut-off stops the flow of electricity out to the street.
The technology has greatly improved in the past 30 years, and it still has a way to go. Plenty of experts argue that the United States has dropped the ball in a game it was winning until the early 2000s—solar photovoltaic research and development. Since then, most solar manufacturing has moved overseas, where countries like Germany have made it a big priority. Here, rebates, incentives, and tax credits have come and gone. Solar installers go out of business or merge with bigger companies.
Despite all that, signs emerged the past year or so that Connecticut and the federal government both want us to use solar. Tax incentives at the federal level make the projects even more sensible, and the state has pledged long-term interest in solar and other renewable technologies. Pressure is on to fulfill the goals of moving away from fossil fuels, and officials do include solar as one way to do it.
For more information
To learn more about solar rebates, contact one of the approved solar PV companies. This website mostly contains announcements of the reorganization of the fund under the new state energy law, as of July 1. But many of the old links under the “Home” tab will work.
For further reading: This article tries to explode the beliefs people have that solar power is unrealistic.